ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul is collaborating with lawmakers to encourage them to broaden her executive decision-making and spending powers as the pandemic continues to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for all teachers and statewide school personnel.
The vaccine mandate would require legislation without expanded authority, which former Gov. Andrew Cuomo had for nearly 15 months since the March 2020 start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The additional executive powers are necessary, Hochul said to anchor Willie Geist on Wednesday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“What I don’t have is the ability to mandate vaccines because the legislature did not confer on the governor at this time the executive powers necessary,” Hochul said. “Gov. Cuomo had that last year but those are not in place now. ...I am working already, with everyone who’s involved and see if we can get to the same outcome.”
Legislation was not introduced in the state Senate or Assembly as of late Wednesday to require the coronavirus vaccine for teachers or school personnel.
Curbing the spread of the COVID delta variant is Hochul’s first priority, she said in her inaugural address Tuesday afternoon, hours after taking office.
Hochul said the COVID-19 vaccine will be required for all teachers, faculty and staff in New York school districts with a weekly test-out option, adding more statewide vaccine mandates are imminent.
A state-level vaccine mandate will follow New York City’s footsteps. Mayor Bill de Blasio consulted with Hochul before announcing a COVID vaccine mandate for city teachers and school staff Monday.
“I think that makes sense,” the governor said on MSNBC. “We have to get people feeling safe about their schools. I’m a mom, and the stress that’s on families and parents, letting your most precious child go off to school, and you’re so worried about them — I get it. And if they know that wearing masks and having people in that environment vaccinated will create a safety net around their child, that’s what people need to hear.”
The governor is expected to announce COVID-19 policies by the end of the week for all New York school districts for the 2021-22 school year.
Hochul directed the state Department of Health to institute universal masking for any person who enters a school. A statewide mask requirement is anticipated for any person inside a school building before school resumes in September.
Children attending both public and private schools in New York are required to receive vaccinations against polio, mumps, measles, diphtheria, rubella, varicella, Haemophilus influenzae type B, pertussis, tetanus, pneumococcal disease, meningococcal disease and hepatitis B, under state law, in accordance with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended immunization schedules.
The required vaccinations help prevent outbreaks of potentially deadly communicable diseases and contribute to herd immunity in the adult population as students age.
“Everyone has to get vaccinated to go to school,” Hochul said. “You don’t go to kindergarten unless you’re vaccinated. We have to get back to that normalization of vaccinations and forget all the Republican rhetoric which is killing people, and I’m going to be that blunt about it, because I’m sick and tired of what I’m seeing going on in other states, and I’m glad most of New York is not like that. But I’m ready to address those issues because it’s smart for people, it protects lives and that’s what the job of a governor is to do.”
A licensed physician must certify a medical exemption.
Legal hurdles to mandate the vaccine eased Monday after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted Pfizer-BioNTech’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccine full approval for people 12 years of age and older.
Hochul has not said if she will mandate the COVID vaccine for students ages 12 and older.
Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, introduced legislation Tuesday to add immunization against COVID-19 to the list of required vaccines for children to attend school in New York.
If passed, the mandate would take effect 30 days after full FDA approval of a vaccine and upon the recommendation by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
“We’re at 19 months into the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States and hospitalizations for children sick with COVID-19 are currently at a record high,” Hoylman said in a statement Wednesday. “We must do everything we can to make sure there never is a pediatric ICU bed shortage in New York state, and that means requiring immunization against COVID-19 for school children once we know they are safe and effective. New York law currently requires students to receive immunizations against 12 different illnesses. It’s a no-brainer to add COVID-19 to that list.”
NYSUT, the state teacher’s union, voiced support for Hochul’s plans to mandate vaccines for school staff and keep COVID safety protocols consistent for all districts.
The state will launch a Back to School COVID testing program to make testing for students and staff widely available and convenient.
Hochul consulted with elected officials, teachers, school board members and superintendents for several months to develop the statewide COVID-19 school policies.